Hidden Gems at Every Position in the 2013 NFL Draft Class

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIFebruary 26, 2013

Hidden Gems at Every Position in the 2013 NFL Draft Class

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    We all know who the top players at each position are in the 2013 NFL draft class. Guys like Geno Smith, Luke Joeckel and Bjoern Werner get talked about nearly every day as high draft picks.

    However, how teams really succeed in a draft is by finding the hidden gems. Just look at what players like Alfred Morris and Alfonzo Dennard did as rookies despite being late-round draft picks.

    There are plenty of hidden gems in the 2013 class that can be had on Days 2 and 3 of the draft, so let's break down the best at every position.

Quarterback: E.J. Manuel, Florida State

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    When people talk about quarterbacks potentially getting drafted in the first round, the names that come to mind are usually Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley. Rarely is E.J. Manuel thrown in with that group, although he may be the best of the bunch.

    Manuel has the ideal size (6'4" and 240 pounds) to go along with great athleticism and arm strength. He struggled at times during college with his decision-making, but he showed the ability to go through his progressions and make the right reads.

    Manuel is an accurate quarterback and can make all the throws necessary in the NFL. He has all the physical tools to be a franchise quarterback who teams will be able to draft after the first round.


    Honorable Mentions: Tyler Bray, Tennessee; Matt Scott, Arizona

    Bray quite possibly has the strongest arm of all the quarterback prospects. He needs to learn to control it and make wise decisions, but if he can do that, he could turn into a Jay Cutler-type quarterback.

    Scott doesn't have the physical skills of other quarterbacks in this year's draft, but his improvisational skills and dual-threat ability could give him great success in the NFL.

Running Back: Knile Davis, Arkansas

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    Heading into the 2011 season, Knile Davis was considered one of the top running backs in college football. Unfortunately, a broken ankle forced him to sit out the entire 2011 season.

    He never appeared to be fully recovered this past season, which has caused him to be all but forgotten in the draft community. However, Davis is still a phenomenal talent who has the skills to be an extremely successful running back.

    He has elite speed (4.37 at the NFL combine) and vision that teams love in every-down running backs. He's also physical enough to break tackles and pick up extra yards after contact.

    As long as Davis can prove he is as healthy as he was back in 2010, he could be quite the steal in the later rounds.


    Honorable Mentions: Ray Graham, Pittsburgh; Jawan Jamison, Rutgers

    Both Graham and Jamison are smaller backs who don't have great speed, but are physical runners. They have the potential to make an impact in both the run and pass game, and should be able to produce immediately for an NFL team.

Fullback: Zach Line, SMU

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    To succeed in the NFL as a fullback, you have to be able to do a number of things for a team. Fullbacks can no longer just be a big body and block for the running back. 

    They now need to be able to run the ball and act as a receiver to go along with their blocking prowess. That is what makes SMU's Zach Line such an intriguing prospect heading into the NFL draft. He's got the vision, speed and hands of a running back, but the body of a fullback.

    Line certainly won't be a high draft pick come April, but he will absolutely come in and contribute for a team right away.


    Honorable Mention: Tommy Bohanon, Wake Forest

    Much like Line, Bohanon has the versatility to make an impact in a number of ways in the NFL. He isn't as refined as a runner or receiver like Line, but his body is more NFL-ready.

    He should be drafted in the later rounds, but he could be fighting for a starting job immediately.

Wide Receiver: Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech

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    Had Da'Rick Rogers stayed at the University of Tennessee, we'd be talking about him as a high first-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL draft. However, off-field issues caused Rogers to leave the Volunteers and head to Tennessee Tech instead.

    That put Rogers off the radar for a number of teams, but there is no doubting that he is an elite talent at the receiver position. He's got the size (6'2", 217 pounds) and strength to make a huge impact as a rookie.

    At Tennessee, Rogers consistently dominated the top cornerbacks in the best defensive conference in the nation. He has the ability to pick up yards after the catch and isn't afraid of contact.

    The team that ends up drafting Rogers will have quite the stud receiver on its roster as long as it can keep him out of trouble.


    Honorable Mentions: Aaron Dobson, Marshall; Denard Robinson, Michigan

    While Robinson still has a ways to go to learn the receiver position, he is an excellent athlete who can simply make plays. Once he learns the small details of his new position, he could become a special playmaker in the NFL.

    Dobson is a big receiver who lacks great speed, but makes up for it with sure hands and the ability to make receptions in traffic.

Tight End: Vance McDonald, Rice

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    Had Vance McDonald not been extremely impressive at the Senior Bowl, he'd likely be an even bigger hidden gem. However, McDonald played exceptionally well against the top talent and likely solidified an early-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

    While McDonald isn't the biggest tight end available (he's only 6'4"), he's got the athleticism to make up for his size. McDonald has the ability to line up at a number of positions on offense, including at slot receiver.

    His hands are huge (10 inches) and he rarely drops passes. His experience in college running sophisticated routes will likely make his transition to NFL less dramatic, which means he'll be able to make an impact almost instantly. 


    Honorable Mentions: Nick Kasa, Colorado; Michael Williams, Alabama

    Both Kasa and Williams are projected to be selected in the later rounds of the draft, but both players have bodies that are ready for the NFL. They're both around 6'6" and 270 pounds and are fantastic blockers in the run or pass game.

    Kasa is more of a project than Williams, but his ceiling as a receiver is also much higher.

Offensive Tackle: Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin

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    It's always hard to bet against an offensive tackle from the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers produce NFL offensive linemen like Toyota produces cars.

    While Ricky Wagner isn't the most athletic offensive tackle, he has the experience and natural skills to be a quality right tackle in the NFL. He'll be extremely valuable to a run-first offense due to his ability to get to the second level and make blocks in the open field.

    Teams looking to add a solid right tackle to their roster will get a steal in Wagner.


    Honorable Mentions: Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Manase Foketi, West Texas A&M

    Neither Armstead nor Foketi have played against elite competition, but they both have the skills and looks to be offensive tackles in the NFL. They may need some time to develop and get used to the talent in the league, but they both have the potential to be starters in their careers.

Offensive Guard: Brian Winters, Kent State

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    Despite playing offensive tackle at Kent State, Brian Winters will likely make the transition to offensive guard in the NFL.

    As a guard, Winters has the physicality and toughness to play in the trenches against defensive linemen. He doesn't back down from a fight and has a real nastiness to his game.

    Winters has proven to be durable during his collegiate career, starting all 49 games at Kent State. Any team that wants a versatile offensive lineman will be getting a gem in Winters.


    Honorable Mentions: Earl Watford, James Madison; Hugh Thornton, Illinois

    Watford and Thornton both project as late-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. While they may not be ready to contribute immediately to a team, they have the size and athleticism to become potential long-term starters for a franchise.

Center: Khaled Holmes, USC

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    It's certainly possible that Khaled Holmes will move to offensive guard in the NFL, but I believe his upside truly lies at the center position.

    He's rather athletic for a player of his size (6'3", 302 pounds), and he moves well in the open field. However, his lack of ability to anchor at the point of attack could force a team to move him to guard, much like Peter Konz did last year for the Atlanta Falcons.

    Ultimately, Holmes' experience at a top university like USC will keep him at center in the NFL. He'll never be the flashiest of starters, but he'll be extremely reliable.


    Honorable Mentions: Mario Benavides, Louisville; Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State

    Benavides and Stankiewitch don't have the size nor physical tools of the top centers in the NFL draft. However, both players have the intangibles that teams love in offensive linemen.

Defensive End: Corey Lemonier, Auburn

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    If you're looking for the best pass-rushing defensive end in the 2013 NFL draft, you may not need to look past Corey Lemonier from Auburn.

    While his 5.5 sacks aren't a very high number, he also wasn't surrounded by much talent in his junior season. Lemonier has a great blend of quickness and power to successfully get pressure on quarterbacks.

    Lemonier also has the ability to drop back into coverage and defend the pass. The only area that he could stand to improve is his presence against the run. He struggles at times finding the running back and will get lost attempting to make a play.

    Overall, Lemonier has a unique set of attributes to contribute immediately in the NFL.


    Honorable Mentions: Caleb Schreibeis, Montana State; Travis Chappelear, Northwest Missouri State

    Both Schreibeis and Chappelear are small-school prospects who will have an uphill battle to succeed in the NFL. However, both players are phenomenal athletes with a ton of upside.

    As long as they can learn to play up to the skill level in the NFL, they could be productive players early in their respective careers.

Defensive Tackle: Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State

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    Thanks to a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, Brandon Williams isn't as unknown as he was a few months ago to both scouts and NFL teams.

    While Williams lacks the ideal size for a defensive tackle or nose tackle in the NFL, he has incredible upper-body strength to make up for it. He consistently wins at the point of attack and creates backward movement at the line of scrimmage.

    The biggest issue with Williams is that he isn't quick enough yet to be a quality pass-rusher in the NFL. He'll have no trouble eating up blockers and stopping the run, but it may take a while for him to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

    Once he does that, Williams will be a force to be reckoned with at defensive tackle.


    Honorable Mentions: Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin; Kwame Geathers, Georgia

    Had Hughes not been dismissed from the University of Tennessee, he could been an early pick in this year's draft. Off-field issues forced him to a smaller school, but the overall skills are still there to be a successful player.

    As for Geathers, the man is simply massive. At 6'5" and 342 pounds, Geathers can be an unmovable object in the middle of a defensive line. He'll need to learn to play as strong as he looks, but if he can do that, he could be a steal in the later rounds of the draft. 

Outside Linebacker: Trevardo Williams, Connecticut

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    When you record 11.5 sacks in a college season, NFL teams are going to take notice. That is what Trevardo Williams did this past year for Connecticut, and that type of pass-rushing ability is what he'll bring to an NFL team.

    Trevardo has an explosive aspect to his game that allows him to consistently get to the edge when rushing the quarterback. While he is a little undersized for his position, he makes up for it with a great motor and natural instincts.

    Due to his likely transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, teams may have some hesitation about using too high of a draft pick on him. However, Trevardo should be able to step in immediately and excel as a situational pass-rusher in the league.


    Honorable Mentions: Etienne Sabino, Ohio State; Michael Clay, Oregon

    Due to the fact that Sabino and Clay both played at successful, big-time colleges, they are polished prospects heading into the NFL.

    They both have limitations (Clay's size and Sabino's inconsistency), but they have the aggressiveness and attitude of key players for an NFL defense.

Inside Linebacker: A.J. Klein, Iowa State

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    A.J. Klein could have some difficulties finding a true position in the NFL. He isn't as physical as teams might want for a middle linebacker, but he doesn't have the athleticism to be successful at outside linebacker.

    However, if there is one thing you can count on in Klein, it's his mental edge. He's got above-average instincts and the ability to diagnosis plays early in their development.

    He rarely misses tackles and is a similar overall prospect to James Laurinaitis from the St. Louis Rams. Klein doesn't necessarily have a high ceiling, but he is the type of player who could start from Day 1 and continue to start for the next 10 years.


    Honorable Mentions: Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech; Brandon Hepburn, Florida A&M

    While Taylor is a little undersized for a middle linebacker, he doesn't act like a smaller player on the field. He is an incredibly physical player who consistently makes plays around the line of scrimmage.

    Hepburn already has a good all-around game and can make an impact against both the run and the pass. He'll need to add some bulk to his frame, but he could turn into an exceptional role player for a franchise.

Cornerback: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

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    Had Tyrann Mathieu not gotten kicked off the LSU football team, we wouldn't be talking about him as a hidden gem. Instead, we'd be talking about him as a potential first-round draft pick.

    Few defensive playmakers are as natural as Mathieu is. When he was at LSU, he literally lined up all over the field and was successful at cornerback, safety and sometimes even linebacker.

    Of course, Mathieu's off-field issues are a major red flag. However, the team that is willing to take a chance on him could end up getting a game-changing player on the roster.

    Mathieu will need to prove that his head is on straight, but if he can do that, he could have an extremely successful career in the NFL.


    Honorable Mentions: Melvin White, Louisiana-Lafayette; Leon McFadden, San Diego State

    As we've seen is past draft classes, you don't need to be from a big school to excel as a cornerback in the NFL. Neither White nor McFadden is from a big program, but both players have the size and overall skill set to succeed in this league.

Free Safety: Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

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    If Bacarri Rambo didn't have as many mental lapses as he did, we'd probably be talking about him as a first-round prospect. He has the ability to make plays in the passing game and is a vicious hitter when given the chance.

    However, Rambo does get lost in the secondary every now and then. He'll sometimes struggle with overplaying receivers and running backs in an attempt to make a big hit.

    Rambo also has some off-field issues, as he was suspended four games in 2012 for a failed drug test. While there are some question marks to his game, Rambo has the skills to be a game-changing safety in the NFL if he can be 100 percent there mentally.


    Honorable Mentions: Jakar Hamilton, South Carolina State; Zeke Motta, Notre Dame

    Hamilton was a former teammate of Rambo at the University of Georgia before transferring for his senior season. He has great abilities with the ball in his hands and should be able to help on special teams right away.

    While Motta didn't get the recognition that Manti Te'o did for the Fighting Irish, he was just as crucial to their success on defense. His love for the game of football is evident, and that love will ultimately help him succeed in the NFL.

Strong Safety: Don Jones, Arkansas State

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    Few players are as athletic as Don Jones is. He's a former running back for Arkansas State who made the switch to safety.

    His athleticism gives him tremendous upside at the safety position. He's still learning the little nuances of the position, but his overall game is pretty solid for being so inexperienced.

    He'll likely get drafted simply for his upside, but if he can figure out his position, he could become a tremendous player.


    Honorable Mentions: Duke Williams, Nevada; Cooper Taylor, Richmond

    Both Williams and Taylor are extremely physical safeties who always seem to find themselves around the football. While Taylor is quite a bit more athletic than Williams, Williams is a more polished prospect.

    Both players should make an instant impact on special teams and eventually work themselves into key roles on a team's defense.